The Browns, not surprisingly, sit at 0-2. Yet, I find optimism in this group, despite the record. For one, they nearly beat the Steelers in Week One, taking the game all the way into the final two minutes before succumbing. Last week, the offense turned the ball over five times, and the defense, at times, resembled defenses from the past. There was one huge difference, and that was the final score, 24-10, didn’t get out of hand. I told myself that two years ago, the final score would’ve been something like 34-10. Ditto for last season. But the fact the Browns were in both games, even last week, they had a shot to cut into that 24-10 lead, spells improvement. With that, let’s take a look at some of the reasons why this has been the case.
Gregg Williams is turning around a defense that’s been bland since 2001. The Browns didn’t have a good defense in 2001, but they created a lot of turnovers (33 interceptions). They were aggressive under former Head Coach Butch Davis, who employed a similar playing style as Gregg Williams. This defense improved in 2002, when the Browns finished at 9-7 and made the playoffs, nearly upsetting the Steelers on the road. But Williams has employed a physical style of play that saw Briean Boddy-Calhoun, a one-hundred and eighty-pound corner, light up Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell like a rag doll. Furthermore, the Browns contained Bell. They didn’t do as good a job last week, but the Browns struggled in time of possession, and the defense was on the field substantially longer. The Browns were also facing backs they didn’t prepare for, as Baltimore’s two top backs were out with injuries come game time. Nevertheless, the run defense still looked better than in years’ past, allowing 4.3 yard per carry.
When DeShone Kizer left with a migraine, I thought he was done for the day, but he was able to re-enter the game, even after Kevin Hogan led an incredible drive at the end of the half. Previous Browns coaches never would’ve done this, and had Hogan placed decent all game, yet another quarterback controversy would’ve ensued. Haven’t we seen enough quarterbacks’ careers get massacred because of annual controversies? Kizer may have had a rough game, and it won’t be the last bad game he has this season, but it held off a potential controversy. I’m a big Kevin Hogan fan, having watched and liked him in college, but Hogan reminds me more of a Chase Daniel, who’s best suited as a back-up quarterback in this league. Sure, he’s a great spot starter, but he lacks the physical tools possessed by Kizer to be a long-term starter. Nevertheless, he’s a great back-up.
Let me be the first one to admit I’m head over heels about the return of pre-season sensation Jordan Leslie. The guy dominated every time he took the field, and I was shocked he wasn’t picked for the final roster, but the numbers game came into play, and this Browns regime rightfully favors players they’ve drafted over prove-it players. Leslie wasn’t drafted by the organization, and it put him behind the eight-ball. However, he played with passion, and that’s something I admire about Jordan Leslie. Sure, he was playing against back-ups, but he was a cut above every one of them, easily the best player on the field when his number was called. Can he translate this and become a starting receiver? With Corey Coleman’s hand injury and Kenny Britt’s struggles, Leslie may fit in as a number three receiver at worst, behind Rashard Higgins and Ricardo Louis.
Speaking of Higgins, the kid was on the practice squad last Saturday, when the Browns called him up to the active roster. Higgins had a career game against what is statistically the best defense in the NFL at this point. This leads me to ask what he can do against the next three opponents, who are a combined 0-6. For one, the Browns have an opportunity to build momentum against Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and the New York Jets. Higgins can be a major part of the offense, and he’ll be embracing the opportunity. When asked about his performance, Higgins responded his motivation was he didn’t want to get cut again. If he has a few more games like that this season, he’ll be a number one receiver in the NFL.
I spoke of Briean Boddy-Calhoun earlier, but the Browns had a major weakness last season at corner. This became even more of a concern when every Browns fan, minus myself, freaked when Joe Haden was let go. After evaluating Haden’s performances with Pittsburgh, the Browns look like geniuses. Then again, BBC, Jason McCourty, and Jamar Taylor have proven thus far the Browns made the right move. Some wanted Haden to move to safety, but Jabrill Peppers and Derrick Kindred (a favorite of mine), have held the fort down. It’s amazing to say that Peppers, Kindred, and BBC are all under the age of twenty-four, with Jamar Taylor at twenty-seven. This is a young, hot unit that should stick together for years to come.
Then there’s the Crown Jewel of the defense, Myles Garrett, who has missed the first two games with a high ankle sprain, but is questionable to make his return this week. For one, a high ankle sprain takes six to eight weeks to recover, but Garrett’s from another planet, and recovers faster than the average human being. Will he return this week? I hope they keep him out another week, because I’d love to see him make a splash of a debut against Cincinnati.